If you thought your Monday was whack, the Bears are starting their week finding out they’re not getting their guy.
The Bills are matching the Bears’ offer sheet for restricted free agent offensive lineman Ryan Bates. And that puts a crimp in whatever plans the Bears were ready to hash out with Bates fitting in somewhere along their offensive line.
OK, so now what?
Who is in a Position to Start?
The season doesn’t begin for another six months or so, which is important to establish. This can all change so many times between now and when the season kicks off. But the current state of the line looks a little something like this:
As far as I’m concerned, Borom and Jenkins could flip/switch at either tackle spot. I’d consider that situation to be fluid, to say the least.
Lucas Patrick and Dakota Dozier are newcomers who project as starters as of this moment. Between his track record, versatility, and contract (cash rules, as Wu-Tang Clan once so eloquently put it), Patrick is a safe bet to start. Dozier, on the other hand, doesn’t come to Chicago with significant guarantees. His status aligns somewhere between being a camp body and usable depth.
Elsewhere on the depth chart are Willie Wright (Poles’ first signing), Sam Mustipher (a starter the last year+ who had a unique weight-gain story last offseason), Lachavious Simmons (who Jason Peters pointed out was not properly prepared for an emergency start vs. Tampa) Tyrone Wheatley Jr. (his dad used to be a NFL RB!), and Dieter Eiselen (fun camp story). Uhhh … they could use some help here, if only to upgrade at depth positions and create summertime camp battles.
Free Agent Options
When it comes to this time of year in free agency, Poles said he likes to target players who are (1) motivated, (2) have a chip on their shoulder, and (3) play with purpose. He also indicated an openness to short-term/one-year “prove it” deals, which would be nice (imagine taking some stop-gap players now and seeing their departures a year later help the Bears in the compensatory pick formula down the road). So in trying to figure out potential Bears free agent fits, I find myself circling back to these factors.
Here are some players who fit that mold:
Eric Fisher, left tackle (Previous: Colts) — We’ve offered Fisher at different points this offseason. And it still remains that he has a history with GM Ryan Poles (from their time in Kansas City) and Head Coach Matt Eberflus (together in Indianapolis). It never hurts to have an existing relationship with the bosses.
Duane Brown, left tackle (Previous, Seahawks) — It wasn’t always pretty, but Jason Peters did a bang-up job holding down the fort while Teven Jenkins was out with a back injury. Should the Bears find themselves convinced about Jenkins starting on the other side at right tackle, they could be in the market for another one-year option before possibly finding that franchise left tackle in a future NFL Draft. Brown, 37, has five Pro Bowls on his résumé and could be someone looking for a deal that allows them to re-establish their stock going into next offseason.
JC Tretter, center (Previous: Browns) — Cleveland cut Tretter to create cap space, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have value moving forward. And while the Bears have already told Lucas Patrick he’ll start at center, Patrick has versatility and experience at both guard spots. He could conceivably slide over to right guard to accommodate Tretter if push comes to shove.
Daryl Williams, tackle/guard (Previous: Bills) — Williams might not be coming off his best year. In fact, one could make the case that the Bills have chosen Bates over Williams (which could be telling if you allow your brain to go that far down the road). Even still … the 29-year-old is an option at multiple positions.
There’s Always the Draft
All right, I’ll settle in the middle with those of you who are quick to point out that the NFL Draft (which is a month away) stands to be the best place for the Bears to address their short- and long-term needs along the offensive line. No argument here. Although, between Eric Kush starting early before James Daniels got it going and Teven Jenkins’ slow start due to injury lat year, I’m wary of putting all my eggs in the draft basket. Not to say I don’t want the Bears to attack that area with those early picks. I’d be totally down for that. But I want to temper expectations just a tad.
Nevertheless, here are some plausible NFL Draft options who could be on the board when the Bears go on the clock in Round 2 (because they don’t have a first-round pick … again):
• Zion Johnson, Boston College (32)
• Kenyon Green, Texas A&M (42)
• Abraham Lucas, Washington State (50)
• Darian Kinnard, Kentucky (62)
• Dylan Parham, Memphis (67)
• Jamaree Salyer, Georgia (69)
• Kellen Diesch, Arizona State (72)
• Tyler Smith, Tulsa (73)
• Dohnovan West, Arizona State (82)
• Daniel Faalele, Minnesota (84)
• Cole Strange, Chattanooga (85)
• Nicholas Petit-Frere, Ohio State (86)
• Max Mitchell, Louisiana (89)
• Zach Tom, Wake Forest (92)
• Luke Fortner, Kentucky (93)
• Sean Rhyan, UCLA (96)
• Luke Goedeke, Central Michigan
That is 17 offensive linemen who rank in the top-100 of PFF’s overall prospect rankings right now. In other words, there should be some good players in that nix.
Pro Football Focus NFL Draft Big Board ranking in parenthesis.
In the End…
This is a bitter pill to swallow. Not just because they didn’t land Bates. But also because we’ve seen so many offensive linemen go off the board since the new league year began earlier this month. The offseason was loaded with guard options who would’ve represented significant upgrades for the offensive line. Not snagging one of those players — whether it was someone who would’ve been an immediate starter or a a fringe player who could’ve been put in a camp battle with an incoming rookie — feels like a missed opportunity. Losing out on Bates only amplifies those feelings.
But because of how free agency has been slow to develop in some areas, at least the Bears still have some options worth exploring.